Patterico's Pontifications

4/14/2009

L.A. Times Op-Ed Omits Significant Conflict of Interest

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 11:10 pm

On Sunday, the L.A. Times published an opinion piece by self-styled police watchdog Merrick J. Bobb, who praised a local police chief. Bobb’s commendation gained credibility from Bobb’s apparent status as a disinterested police expert, who seemingly owes no personal allegiance to the chief. What readers weren’t told is that the chief has been Bobb’s (presumably paid) consultant since 2004.


Above: Self-styled police “expert” Merrick Bobb

Praising his own consultant

Bobb’s piece centers around issues of police confidentiality in connection with an officer-involved shooting. After Pasadena police officers shot a suspect, Pasadena P.D. Chief Bernard Melekian sought to reveal the officers’ names at a news conference. A Pasadena police union obtained a court order to prevent the chief from revealing the officers’ identities, arguing that disclosure could subject the officers to retaliation from gang members. Bobb’s piece sided with the chief. From the very first sentence, Bobb heaps praise on Chief Melekian:

Bernard Melekian, Pasadena’s police chief and head of the California Police Chiefs Assn., is a model police executive — honest and forthright, dedicated to building community trust and willing to subject his department and himself to the scrutiny that comes with transparency.

Bobb’s piece repeatedly extols Melekian’s virtues. Bobb says the chief “followed the rules of good policing” and gushes: “[Chief Melekian's] willingness to hold himself and his department accountable to the general public is admirable.” Bobb’s sermon of praise ends with a paean to “transparency.”

How ironic that Bobb shows no “transparency” about his own relationship with Melekian.

Instead, the reader is led to assume that Bobb has no personal interest in defending Melekian:

Merrick J. Bobb is executive director of the nonprofit Police Assessment Resource Center and special counsel monitoring the Sheriff’s Department for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

What Bobb fails to mention, and The Times does not disclose, is that Melekian is a paid employee of Bobb’s consulting firm.* The web site for the aforementioned Police Assessment Resource Center lists Melekian as one of only two “senior advisors” to Bobb’s firm:

Chief Bernard Melekian joined PARC as a senior advisor in June 2004. He is the Police Chief of Pasadena, California, and has occupied that position since 1996.

Melekian’s presence at Bobb’s consulting firm lends Bobb credibility in claiming an understanding of police procedures and tactics. Melekian’s experience is critical, because Merrick Bobb has absolutely no police experience, whatsoever.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to have a background in law enforcement.”

Many police officers view Bobb with contempt. Not without justice, they consider Bobb to be a liberal tool who knows nothing about the reality of being a cop. For example, Roy Burns, a past president of ALADS (an association of L.A. County Deputy Sheriffs), once lashed into Bobb, saying:

He doesn’t understand what I do. He’s watched TV. He’s watched those police shows, and he thinks he knows about law enforcement. He doesn’t.

Burns added: “I find it [incredible] that our county, that our Board of Supervisors, would hire an individual to criticize our law enforcement that has no background in that field.”


Above: Almost certainly not Merrick Bobb

Bobb responded: “I don’t think it’s necessary to have a background in law enforcement.” Bobb argued that he understands police issues.

But Bobb’s claim depends in significant part on his use of police consultants like Melekian. For example, this report on officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths at the Portland Police Department states:

PARC retained two consultants—Chief Bernard Melekian and former Assistant Sheriff Michael Graham—with a wealth of sworn law enforcement experience and broad knowledge of policing practices across the country to participate in the case file reviews and in the formulation of the conclusions reached by this report.

Chief Melekian is regularly listed as a consultant in other reports prepared by PARC criticizing police agencies. For example, Melekian is listed as a key consultant in this 2008 report on uses of deadly force by the Denver Police Department, this August 2006 report about the Sheriff’s Department, and many other similar reports.

Understand clearly: when Bobb praises Melekian in Sunday’s op-ed, this is not some disinterested police watchdog larding praise on a random police chief. Bobb is propping up his pal — and failing to tell readers that fact.

Previous failures to disclose: 2006

Bobb is well accustomed to pretending to be a disinterested advocate for Melekian. In 2006, Bobb led a team that received almost $100,000 to conduct a survey of his own consultant’s police department. Unsurprisingly, the survey resulted in glowing praise for the department and its chief. Like Sunday’s op-ed, the resulting report did not mention Melekian’s status as a consultant for Bobb.

In April 2006, the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation bestowed a $94,997 grant on a team led by Bobb to survey the Pasadena Police Department’s officers and citizens. (See page 18 of the .pdf.) Bobb’s team concluded:

Chief Melekian and his command staff should take great pride and be publicly recognized for the extraordinarily high morale of Pasadena police officers and the high degree to which they are satisfied with their jobs and with their supervisors and command staff.

Great success! And in a “random” survey of Pasadena residents, Bobb’s team found that the good citizens of Pasadena generally loved their police department and their chief . . . who happened to be Merrick Bobb’s Senior Consultant:

Overall, the respondents expressed high rates of satisfaction with their contacts with the police and had positive perceptions of police effectiveness. While African-Americans and Latinos expressed more skepticism about police concern and misconduct, the study’s findings were that the PPD, under the leadership of Chief Bernard Melekian, had “embraced community policing and committed itself to reducing crime as well as improving community relations.”

The report nowhere mentions that the man whose police department was under Bobb’s intense “scrutiny” had been Bobb’s own consultant since 2004.

How cozy!

Previous failures to disclose: 2008

The love continued in 2008, with a report prepared by PARC pursuant to a grant from the Department of Justice. The report evaluated a “Pilot Community Policing Program” which was described as the brainchild of Chief Melekian and received high marks. The report stated that Chief Melekian’s apology to the community for injustices “real or perceived” was a positive step that “helped begin the process of reconciliation and set a positive tone.” The report added:

The PPD under Chief Bernard Melekian has wholeheartedly embraced community policing, as evidenced by the number of community policing initiatives and the high levels of support from its officers for working with the community. The Pasadena Program is just one such innovative initiative.

As in 2006, amid all the praise for Chief Melekian and his programs, the relationship between Bobb, PARC, and Melekian went unmentioned.

The L.A. Times drops the ball

When Bobb’s team gets paid nearly six figures to review the performance of his own consultant — while hiding the fact that the subject of his “scrutiny” is his own consultant — a newspaper truly devoted to performing a “watchdog” function should be all over such an undisclosed conflict. Bobb is hardly a mysterious figure among the local liberal elite; he is regularly cited by L.A. Times news articles that join the liberal cabal condemning local police departments for doing their jobs. You’d think a watchdog with such transparent conflicts might garner some scrutiny from the local newspaper.

You’d be wrong.

An article on the 2006 report was titled Glowing Report on Pasadena Police. It failed to note the business relationship between Bobb and the subject of his report. As far as I can tell, the 2008 report — and its failure to disclose the relationship between Bobb and Melekian — went unreported by the paper.

And now, the newspaper continues its head-in-the-sand mentality. Editors are apparently content to turn over their opinion pages for a repeat performance of Bobb’s adoration for his own consultant — with absolutely no disclosure of the relationship.

Pathetic. And yet, all too expected at this dying newspaper.

UPDATE: Much more on Bobb here.

UPDATE x2: I wrote Sue Horton, the paper’s Sunday opinion editor, about this. My letter is here.

17 Responses to “L.A. Times Op-Ed Omits Significant Conflict of Interest”

  1. I want to make it crystal clear that I am not criticizing the consulting arrangement in any way, shape, or form. I assume that the chief is in conformance with all applicable ethical rules and that there is no problem at all with his working as a consultant for Bobb. In addition, the praise for Chief Melekian in Bobb’s opinion piece and various reports may well be completely justified.

    My only point is that Bobb should disclose the arrangement when writing op-eds — or issuing reports — praising the chief.

    But I think that’s a significant point.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  2. There is just so much conflict-of-interest in this relationship that a lot of un-winding needs to be done.
    1- The Chief needs to find new, full-time employment. His time in Pasadena has reached its’ “sell date”;
    2- Bobb’s relationship with both the LAT and the County Supervisors needs to be terminated – how can either trust the opinions of someone who has lied by omission to them;
    3- I would think that both the Haynes Foundation, and the DoJ would be wanting their money back – there was some serious fraud involved in both of those reports.
    Just another sign that the political power-structure is too incestuous – some new blood is crucially needed…
    Vote all incumbents out – every time.

    AD - RtR/OS (283df4)

  3. Fantastic post Pat. I hope you didn’t miss all those layers of fact-checking and verification that big concerns like the LAT have when they’re publishing unchecked press-releases in the guise of news.

    Craig Mc (172234)

  4. Patterico shoots, and scores! With some real live, honest to goodness reporting that escaped the purview of professional journalists.

    Well done, Pat!

    EW1(SG) (e27928)

  5. Patterico is the best professional journalist the LA Times never hired.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  6. Wow. I mean, “Wow.”

    Tremendous catch.

    –JRM

    JRM (355c21)

  7. The Chief needs to find new, full-time employment. His time in Pasadena has reached its’ “sell date”;

    Again, this is not a piece targeting the chief in any way. I want to be as clear as possible about that. I really don’t know anything about him, and I have no reason to question his tenure or any of his actions. Bobb, on the other hand . . .

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  8. But LAT op-ed folks were too busy for trivia such as investigating the ties of a respected, unquestioned civic leader like Bobb! They had more important tasks — like finding liberal critics of Rush Limbaugh!

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  9. I dealt with Bobb and his minions frequently as a homicide Lt. with the Sheriff’s Dept. He always seemed more interested in his own ideas on how police work should be done rather than the reality of it. I know that he was not completely objective.

    I guess I would have to say that Bobb is a twit. Oh….and he wears pointy toed Italian shoes.

    Don Bear (cbd576)

  10. Patterico is the best professional journalist the LA Times never hired.

    You take that back!

    :-)

    Daryl Herbert (b65640)

  11. Great article, Patterico. Next up on the Times Op-Ed page: Mickey Mouse, a common household rodent, gives an opinion of possible places to visit next time you’re in Orlando, Florida.

    Apogee (f4320c)

  12. Comment by Patterico — 4/15/2009 @ 7:08 am

    I fault the Chief for not making his relationship with Bobb public; and await the response to this revelation by the City Manager and/or Council.

    AD (54daf1)

  13. Merrick Bobb is a self-proclaimed expert and that’s that. He has no credibility with the men and women who push. The liberal majority LA County BOS, who also does not have a clue about police work, surely gets excited whenever he issues a report critical of the Sheriff’s Department. He has done nothing but make doing the day to day job of a cop harder. It is a shame that the LA BOS continues to pay this clown.

    bh (d6d84d)

  14. You did great stuff here, Pat. You and Curt sent me on a real fact finding mission. Many thanks for the reciprocal link back to FA… but you’re the breaking news guy here.

    MataHarley (ded7f3)

  15. How can the accomplishments of Pasadena PD and the chief not be questioned? We know Bobb has heaped praise on both, but a significant fiduciary relationship existed for some time between the two men and this clearly biases his evaluations.

    Sadly, to allow personal glory, and at the least, clearly biased adulation in one of the nation’s largest newspapers is par for the course for such political animals like the Pasadena Chief. One hand feeds the other and the public stands by and watches. Is it to be believed that the Pasadena Chief was unaware of the articles by his friend, Bobb? To remain Chief of Police for as long as he has it is clear political missteps are not that frequent for this Chief. But the articles cited and a Chief co-mingling as a paid consultant for someone that essentially investigates, reports, and evaluates on your department is clearly, 100% unethical. And that, my friends is what a Day One Police Recruit or law student would have to call a conflict of interest or unethical.

    The public servant, the Chief, is accountable for this violation of ethics and the degradation he has caused to the law enforcement profession. A less aggrandizing man, a leader, would never allow such a scheme to take place because he would want to ensure the merits of his work, his noble profession, and the accomplishments of his organization would stand on their own. The relationship with Bobb has cast serious doubt on Pasadena’s accomplishments now. That is because the word of a man evaluating them has been proven beyond a preponderance of the evidence to be biased. Is Pasadena PD really that good? Or was it Bobb, with his vast police experience telling us they were great while maintaining this business relationship with Melekian? Whatever it is, it’s a clearly a political football being thrown to Melekian. Wonder if he will catch it?

    Irwin (978e6f)

  16. Yeah, great catch, but I wouldn’t go so far as at least one did claiming the LAT didn’t know. Of course they knew, and they fully condone it. Duh.
    Second, the sickness in the society is ever present, and even patterico has to give us the litany parsed ten ways to Sunday, concerning just “his specific point”.
    It’s sickening.
    We have a corrupt reporter, a corrupt paper, and for all we know a dirty police chief – and the first tow cannot be stated effectively, for whatever legal beagel reasonings, and therfore will continue, forever, or until that sick societal issue changes, and yet, it only get worse. Forever is therefore the correct call.

    SiliconDoc (f38773)

  17. [...] paper failed to disclose a significant conflict of interest on the part of self-styled police critic Merrick Bobb. I sent an e-mail to editor Sue Horton about [...]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Patterico’s Los Angeles Dog Trainer Year in Review 2009 (e4ab32)


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